It took over 51 years, nearly 1,500 games and eight seasons into its Division I tenure, but on November 16 in Highland Heights, KY, Northern Kentucky University pulled off its first hard-fought, hardwood victory against a highly regarded, high-major basketball program. Perhaps most satisfyingly, NKU’s landmark win comes at the expense of cross-river rival University of Cincinnati, 64-51, in front of a record home sellout crowd of 8,503 at Truist Arena.
The visiting Bearcats brought with them their 1,866 program wins – good for 12th all-time in NCAA Division I – along with a roster clad with upperclassmen and portal transfer players from other high-major programs (Michigan, Indiana, Arkansas, Memphis, Clemson, Old Dominion). Coming into the contest 3-0, UC was looking to use this game as a tune-up for the upcoming Maui Jim Invitational where they will face the likes of Arizona, The Ohio State University and San Diego State. They left the game with their first loss of the season and likely more questions than answers.
The Norse approached gameday not knowing whether or not they would have starting guard Sam Vinson available in the lineup. The returning Horizon League Freshman of the Year injured his ankle in the game against UC-Clermont and was questionable going into the UC game. Before tipoff, the walking boot came off and Sam Vinson – along with starters Marques Warrick, Chris Brandon, Trevon Faulkner and Xavier Rhodes – formed the starting five that derailed their local rivals.
The Norse triumvirate of Vinson (15 points, 3 assists, 4 steals), Warrick (22 points, 2 assists, 3 blocks) and Brandon (10 points, 16 rebounds, 3 assists) led the team through a close first half that saw UC go into the locker room with a 40-36 lead after shooting 53.3% from the field. NKU came out the second half strong, charging out on a 9-0 run to start the half before UC Coach Wes Miller called a timeout to cool the Norse off.
It took the Bearcats nearly six minutes to score their first points of the second half, but by then the Norse had already taken the lead and the momentum. The Norse outrebounded UC 35-32 and employed a suffocating matchup zone that hassled and strangled the visitors to the tune of 13.8% shooting in the second half, a half in which UC would go on to be outscored, 28-11.
Of particular note, the Norse shot only 11 three-pointers on the night, after averaging 25.3 treys per game last season. According to Miller, the Bearcats went into the game with the goal of shutting down the Norse perimeter shooting game, but Northern Kentucky made the necessary adjustments and attacked the basket more aggressively with higher percentage shots, finishing the game with 51.1% shooting from the field and 54.5% behind the arc.
Later this season, this Norse will have another opportunity to notch a substantial win against a quality out-of-conference opponent when they travel to Washington on December 7 to take on PAC-12’s Washington State. Last season, the Cougars went 22-15 and advanced to the semifinals of the NIT before bowing out to eventual tourney finalist Texas A&M.